What’s Ashley Reading?: The Book of Cold Cases

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

First line: The Greer mansion sat high on a hill, overlooking the town and the ocean.

Summary: It’s 1977 in Claire Lake, Oregon. The city is reeling with the murders of two family men on lonely roads at night. With the bodies, a note written by a woman asking to be caught. When the police and the town decide that it is none other than the richest girl in town. Beth Greer lives in the exclusive part of town, seems unfriendly and is seen leaving one of the crime scenes. However, the courts are unable to convict her. For the next forty years she lives quietly in her mansion until a blogger happens to meet her looking for answers.

It’s 2017 in Claire Lake, Oregon. Shea Collins is working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office but at night she runs a blog where she discusses cold cases. Most prominent on the blog is the Lady Killer case which took place in Claire Lake in 1977. Many theories circulate on who actually committed the murders and when Shea gets the chance to interview the main suspect, Beth Greer, she pushes down her fears from childhood to finally get some answers.

My Thoughts: This sounds like your normal thriller with a killer and a secret. But with St. James, that is never the case. She brings in the creep factor that I had to put the book down one night, hoping that I would be able to sleep. And it was not an overly scary scene but it was written perfectly to scare with little detail. Even with the scary bits I could not put this down. I had a third of the book left to read and I decided to just sit down and read till it was done. I had to find out the ending and what twist the author was going to throw at us. It did not disappoint. It was scary, exciting and fulfilling for the characters and the reader. I just finished this and I already want her next book!

FYI: A little scary and some violence against children.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Nine Lives

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

First line: Jonathan Grant, unless he let her know ahead of time that he couldn’t make it, always visited on Wednesday evening.

Summary: Nine people have received a letter in the mail with no return postmark and inside is a list of nine names. None of the names seem familiar to the people on the list. Many of them assume that it is some technical error until one of them is found murdered. Coincidence? Maybe. Until another of the people on the list is found shot in the back while out on his morning run. Detective Winslow is also on the list and she is determined to find out what the connection is and who is hunting them.

My Thoughts: I love Peter Swanson’s books. This is my third one but I need to go back and read his older stuff soon too. The way he incorporates classic mysteries into his stories also give me more books to read but adds an extra layer of intrigue into the plot. In this one he uses the similarities with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Each of the chapters were really short and they were organized into how many people are left on the list. As it counted down the suspense continued to build as I waited for the next death or a big reveal. And just before Swanson gave the reader a big hint of who was behind the deaths, I figured it out. It was genius. As a reader, and one that has read a lot of Agatha Christie lately, I can see he enjoys her work and draws inspiration from it too.

But I think my favorite part of Swanson’s newest book was the relationships in it. The characters that lived longer into the story were given interesting storylines that made me want to read just for their interactions. It made their impending doom much more heartbreaking.

FYI: Lots of death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The A.B.C. Murders

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

First line: It was June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch in South America for a stay of about six months.

Summary: Alice Asher is found murdered in Andover with a copy of the ABC Railway Guide near her body. Next comes Betty Bernard in Bexhill. As the murders progress the famed detective, Hercule Poirot, is being taunted by the killer. Why can’t Poirot figure out who is killing these people even when he has fair warning? How many letters in the alphabet before Poirot finds his killer?

My Thoughts: I’ve been on an Agatha Christie kick lately. I was hoping to read them in order but I decided that when taking a trip with my mom to Kansas City we should listen to one of Christie’s best known stories during the drive. We both have really enjoyed the other Poirot stories and this one was no different.

As the story went along Christie kept giving us peeks into the murderer’s whereabouts. Or did she? She is the master of crime novels because as a reader you never know what is real or what is a distraction from the truth. It is masterfully done. I never once considered who the killer was until it was revealed at the end.

Plus the writing is fun. I love when Poirot talks about “the little grey cells”. If you have not picked up an Agatha Christie novel then I would highly recommend you did. Especially her Hercule Poirot series. They are always entertaining. And then watch the movies based on the novels, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Beautifully done!

FYI: Perfect reads for anyone who likes a good story and one that has stood the tests of time.

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Slow Fire Burning

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

First line: Blood-sodden, the girl staggers into the black.

Summary: A young man is found murdered in his houseboat in Regent’s Canal. As the police look into what happened they focus on three women. The young woman with whom he had a one night stand, the grief stricken aunt and the nosy neighbor. Each one has their own dark pasts with lots of mistakes. And their own reasons to kill.

My Thoughts: This book started great! It felt like it was going to be an exciting story with lots of twists. And it was fun but so much of it seemed to not matter to the whole storyline. Miriam especially seemed like she was just an addition to get the book to a certain page count. Plus there was lots of characters at the beginning. Keeping track of them while listening to the audio version made it hard to keep track of the plot.

I did enjoy the relationship between Irene and Laura. Seeing two women who are lonely and very different be friends and support each other is heartwarming in a murder mystery. I felt bad for both of them throughout the book because of the prejudices against them by society.

I was not surprised by who the killer was. It seemed rather obvious from the beginning as we learn the women’s backstories. With each one we see the connections and can figure out how the story will play out. Especially if you have read other thrillers. But I will say I still had fun reading it and would recommend it.

FYI: From the author of The Girl on the Train.

Linda’s Favorite Books: We Hope For Better Things

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartels

Summary: When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request – that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos – seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time. 

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think. (from www.amazon.com)

Thoughts: I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries.  Traveling between decades can sometimes be confusing but the author very smoothly accomplishes this in the book.  I also enjoy when old items come to life in stories which makes for an exciting read! 

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Maidens

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

First line: Edward Fosca was a murderer.

Summary: Mariana recently lost her husband. She has been struggling to come to terms with his death and helping her patients. But when she receives a call from her niece she finds something to focus her energy on. There has been a murder in Cambridge and the dead girl is her niece’s best friend. It has shocked the town and the college.

When Mariana arrives she immediately believes that the murderer is Zoe’s professor, Edward Fosca. As the investigation continues she dives deeper into the secrets of a group called the Maidens. How is Mariana going to protect her niece and find the killer?

My Thoughts: This book was such a mess. There were unnecessary characters that were intentionally there to distract the reader. Some were just thrown in the give her a hint of something which could have happened in other ways. Mariana felt like she was in a cozy mystery. She was trying to include herself into a mystery and solve it.

I loved the location. This was something I was really excited about in this book. Ten years ago I visited Cambridge for a week and fell in love with this university town. I felt completely safe wandering the town by myself. I visited little shops, farmer’s markets and the colleges. If you ever get a chance to visit Cambridge, do it! It is picture perfect and just a 2 hour train ride from London.

FYI: Read The Silent Patient.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review written by Maya McKinnie

Maya is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First line of the book: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair Family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.”

Summary: We Were Liars is the story of Cadence Eastman, a girl with a “perfect” family that is falling apart. Each summer they travel to a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The Sinclair family is composed of Grandfather Harris Sinclair, the aunts: Penny, Carrie, and Bess, the littles: Will, Taft Liberty, and Bonnie, and last but not least the liars: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The story centers on Cadence and her group of cousins nicknamed the liars. Cadence suffers from post-traumatic headaches ever since an accident that happened two summers ago (summer fifteen). The thing is she can’t remember anything about the events that led up to her accident. Her mother claims that she would tell her every day what happened but then the next day Cadence would simply ask again. Finally the doctors told her mother to leave it alone and that it was best if Cadence remembered on her own. The only part of the story Cadence seems to retain is that she went swimming one night in late July all alone, was later found curled up on the beach half naked, and no one knows what happened. In addition to this piece of information, she remembers bits and pieces of summer fifteen but there are a few gaps in her memory. The main plot of the story begins when Cadence returns for the first time since the incident to the island to spend three weeks of the summer with her family and beloved liars. Determinedly she makes it her goal to discover for herself the truth of what happened during summer fifteen.

Thoughts: One of the best aspects of this story is the ultimate friendship that exists between Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. I also loved the idea of a broken family that looks perfect on the outside. Overall I thought it was really well written and I loved the unique style the author wrote in. The ending was very unexpected but I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it for anyone who loves a story about overcoming tragedy narrated by the main character.

Favorite Quote: “We should not accept an evil we can change.”

FYI: There is definitely some foul language but not much more than your average YA novel. This book also might be unsuitable for those who are triggered by death, grief, or fire. 

The Curse of Pandora’s Box: Answers Revealed!

We were so thrilled to offer a take-home murder mystery this season in collaboration with the Big Read. This Greek mythology-themed mystery had you digging through emails, text transcripts, and private journal entries in the hopes of discovering the truth surrounding the mysterious death of Madame Phoebe Gaius.

Now it’s time to reveal the truth!

The suspect who murdered Madame Phoebe is…

Cassandra Troy!

Did you guess correctly?

We gave out roughly 140 take-home mystery kits, and of those who submitted answers, 57% of the them were correct with the second most popular guess being Professor Theus!

So why and how exactly did Cassie kill Madame Phoebe?

It all started with Madame Phoebe’s grandson, Apollo. As a member of a prominent Greek family, Apollo attended many public functions that were covered by journalists. At one of these functions, Apollo met renowned art journalist, Cassandra Troy and asked her out on a date. Cassandra rejected his affection, and Apollo was so offended that he used his Instagram platform to discredit Cassandra’s reports. She was subsequently fired from her job at “To Vima,” but Apollo showed no remorse.

Seeking both the truth and revenge, Cassandra started a personal blog, The Oracle, where she researched the Gaius family and soon uncovered actual scandals associated with both the Acropolis Museum and Madame Phoebe.

These scandals were:

  • In attempts to purchase artifacts that he felt were important, Professor Theus was embezzling funds through the use of a fake cooperation called Pyronix.
  • Madame Phoebe’s granddaughter, Artemis, refused to get married which greatly strained their relationship. Out of pride, Artemis rejected Phoebe’s money, causing her animal sanctuary to suffer financially. Artemis turned to identity theft and fraud to pay the bills.
  • Lord Dio Russo, the museum’s event coordinator, hosted parties with unseemly activities, one of which involved an intern suffering from alcohol poisoning.
  • Madame Phoebe had a tumultuous relationship with her sister, Rhea, involving their inheritance. Rhea, the eldest, was passed over in favor of Phoebe, and this caused tensions in the family
  • Madame Phoebe and Mr. Z, the museum’s curator, were engaged years ago, but Mr. Z was caught in an affair with his personal assistant, and Madame Phoebe broke off the engagement.

Having had experience running a popular gardening blog in her spare time, Cassandra’s new blog gained traction, particularly with other media outlets like the gossip journal, Kous Kous, which hired her on as a social media journalist. This gave Cassandra a little more access to the family, and she truly thought if their secrets were revealed, it would destroy them.

No one believed her, and Madame Phoebe sent a Cease and Desist out, threatening a lawsuit. Cassandra sent flowers to Madame Phoebe as a peace offering, but the threat within the flowers, the “devil’s bread” or poisonous hemlock flower, didn’t go unnoticed. Cassandra was enraged that no one believed her about the scandals at the museum or the wrongs this family was committing.

After the Cease and Desist was sent, Cassandra decided to torment Madame Phoebe with the truth by sending her the box with all of the evidence. She also started stalking her, leading Phoebe to believe she was seeing shadows.

On the day of Mythos Fantastikos, Cassandra used the party’s disorganization to her advantage, swiping a press pass and sneaking about in the kitchens. An avid gardener, Cassandra knew that hemlock would be mistaken for another leafy green and placed it on Madame Phoebe’s plate of ambrosia salad. Madame Phoebe suffered from coniine poison, a toxic chemical found in hemlock. The hemlock is a nod to the death of Socrates, the Greek philosopher.

What mythology-based clues hinted at the true killer?

Besides the evidence in the documents, a few clues based upon Greek mythology were included. Seven Greek gods were presented in the box as well as six items. These gods were associated with the seven deadly sins, and the items correlated to the gods. The gods also correlated to the seven suspects.

  • Plutus and coins = greed, Professor Theus
  • Eros and roses = lust, Mr. Z
  • Adephegia and grapes = gluttony, Lord Dio
  • Lyssa and sword = wrath, Cassandra
  • Phthonus and eye = envy, Countess Rhea
  • Hybris and mirror = pride, Artemis
  • Aergia and no item (due to laziness) = sloth, Apollo

In Madame Phoebe’s journal entry, she said that the statue of the goddess, Lyssa, seemed to be watching her and that she believed the goddess of wrath to be the most feared. Also below Cassandra’s blog was a quote from the Greek dramatist, Menander, that said “the sword the body wounds, sharp words the mind” referencing both the power of words and the power of the sword.

What other connections to Greek mythology were in the story?

Each suspect was inspired by a Greek god or goddess. Readers could say that it’s all a coincidence or they can decide if perhaps these suspects were in fact gods disguised as mortals. It’s up to you!

Madame Phoebe = the Titaness, Phoebe

Phoebe’s last name comes from a blend of Uranus and Gaia, the titans’ parents. Phoebe also had twin grandchildren, Apollo and Artemis. In mythology, Zeus actually had a relationship with Phoebe’s daughter, Leto, but Letitia (the personal assistant) is a nod to her.

The Trojan Priestess, Cassandra

Cassandra Troy = the Trojan priestess, Cassandra

The story goes that when Cassandra rejected the god Apollo, he cursed her to always speak of true prophecies but that no one would believe her.

Apollo Barros = the Greek god, Apollo

Apollo talks about “keeping things shiny” and “bringing things into the light” referencing the sun. Apollo also puts himself into the light via the most modern method; Instagram!

Artemis Barros = the Greek goddess, Artemis

The goddess Artemis is a hunter and protector of wildlife, hence Artemis Barros running an animal sanctuary. The god Orion is actually one of Artemis’ closest companions, and all the names of the identities that Artemis stole are names that the goddess also used.  

Lord Dio Russo = the Greek god, Dionysus

Like Dionysus, the god of wine, Lord Dio loves to party hard, sometimes with reckless abandon. The reference to “Dove Coeur” is actually a nod to Aphrodite and her relationship with the Greek god.

Mr. Z = The Greek god, Zeus

Though in the myths, Zeus had a relationship with Phoebe’s daughter, Leto, we reference it in the story with the mention of Letitia, the assistant who broke up their engagement.

Professor Theus = The Greek god, Prometheus

Professor Theus is embezzling money to purchase items that he thinks are important. He is sending this money to a fake organization called Pyronix, referencing the story of Prometheus’ gift of fire to the humans. His first name, Metis, is also a Greek word meaning “magical cunning.”

Countess Rhea Crohn = the Greek goddess, Rhea

The goddess Rhea is really Phoebe’s sister in mythology and though she was considered “the mother of the gods,” she had no real following or place of worship. Similar to the story’s Rhea, the goddess Rhea was slighted by the more popular deities. The goddess Rhea did marry Cronus which is noted by our Rhea’s last name.

We hope you all enjoyed taking this mystery home and exploring the clues and story. Thank you to all of you for participating, and be on the lookout for more mysteries like this coming to the Derby Public Library soon!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.

Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.

I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Cousins

The Cousins by Karen McManus

First line: I’m late for dinner again, but this time it’s not my fault.

Summary: On a resort island lives the Story family. They have lived there for generations. But one day the Story children are disinherited by their mother. The only clue is a note that reads…You know what you did. For over twenty years the four siblings had no contact with their mother or even returned to the island.

Then one day a letter arrives for the next generation of Storys. It is inviting them to the island for a job at the family owned resort and to get to know their grandmother. Everyone is shocked by this change of events but each grandchild is willing to see if they can get a chance to earn back their grandmother’s approval.

My Thoughts: Once again McManus writes a fun and twisty mystery. There are mysterious people, family secrets and ominous warnings. Everything you could want from a good story. Each of the characters if very different. We even get a peak into what happened on the island before the Story kids were disinherited.

I liked the characters. I loved the drama. I was constantly trying to think of what the big reveal would be. And I have to say that it was not what I thought it would be. Maybe my thoughts were a little too wild but sometimes authors do those things. This book, especially near the end, gave me all the Rebecca vibes. Hopefully that doesn’t give too much away! I like that YA authors are writing books for teens that are just as good as the ones for adults.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Sara Shepard.